As I mentioned in my review of Stephen Molstad’s adaptation of the 1998 Godzilla film, GODZILLA, I usually avoid movie novelizations, and it was with some reluctance that I finally bought Greg Cox’s adaptation of 2014’s Godzilla film and started reading the book earlier this year. My reservations weren’t just due to my admitted bias against movie novelizations, but also due to the fact I felt the story of Gareth Edward’s often impressive cinematic monsterpiece was frankly one of the weaker elements of the film. I wasn’t looking forward to revisiting the story in a longer format devoid of the gorgeous cinematography. Well, after months of languidly perusing a page or two before turning to other reading material, I took a long plane ride as my chance to read the rest of Cox’s best-selling kaiju thriller—and, yeah, it’s not great, but at least the human cast is more interesting in novel form compared to the movie.
The story, simplified, is that a pair of radioactivity-eating arthropods called MUTOs appear in modern America and play havoc with bomb-expert soldier Ford Brody’s family life. The MUTOs are a massive threat to the human civilization as they cause EMP blasts or fields (depending on the gender) that take out electronics, and they are going to breed and make lots more MUTOs to overrun the planet (though I would think they would probably run out of food pretty fast). Ford is involved with the sundry stratagems against the MUTOs, but the military largely proves ineffective. Godzilla then shows up as a sort of giant bug exterminator and the beasts brawl with the future of the world at stake.
So how was the book version? Let’s break down this review into a top five list of things I liked and didn’t like about this book:
Things I liked:
1. One of the aspects I didn’t care for so much in the original Godzilla (2014) movie was that the tone was so serious, despite the sheer absurdity of the plot. For me at least, the sort of dour tone made the silliness of the plot feel out of place. Greg Cox, however, while still telling an exciting story, manages to inject levity into the proceedings with colorful, informal language and side-comments from characters, which really help to make the story more fun to read.
2. The characters’ motivations are clearer and their emotional lives are more fleshed out. Whereas in the film, I quickly grew tired of Ford because he felt like a stale, lifeless soldier, in the novel his love of his family and his motivations for doing what he does are clearer and more sympathetic. Dr. Serizawa, too, is somewhat more interesting, and actually frequently prays throughout the story, showing a surprising religious side, which I thought gave him some needed rounding.
3. The story includes some scenes which we don’t get to see in the movie, such as the short fight between Godzilla and the male MUTO in Hawaii (which features Godzilla’s first nuclear breath attack!), as well as more blood and nastiness in the brawls—although (SPOILERS) Godzilla’s final move against the female MUTO is slightly different and does not include the force-feeding aspect of the movie. (END SPOILERS). Oh, and Mothra’s name is no longer on Ford’s aquarium. Nevertheless, the moth is mentioned as having escaped despite the nuclear disaster and I had fun imagining that the irradiated insect would eventually become the real Mothra.
4. The story is sometimes genuinely exciting, and some of the scenes of destruction are handled well.
5. The story includes Godzilla and other giant monsters fighting. I enjoy that sort of thing.
Things I didn’t like:
1. Recently as I have reviewed a lot of self-published Godzilla books, one of my big complaints has been the sheer number of editorial slips remaining in the prose. I thought this official novelization would break that trend, given that, well, it’s an official novelization with a professional, very experienced author (Cox has written quite a few adaptations, from Man of Steel to Star Trek to The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase). Thus I was quite dismayed to find numerous mistakes throughout the book. At times I was finding at least one error on every page, and while I marked the errors at first, I got tired of trying to mark them all and gave up by the end.
2. In addition to the above errors, a fairly large storytelling oversight is also included in the story. At one point, Ford is hoping he will get drafted into a mission to fight against the MUTOs so he can help save his family. Then the story follows several other narrative threads, and when it gets back to Ford, suddenly he is with his son somehow (we never saw them reunited), and when he is drafted into a mission to fight the monsters, he is frustrated because he has to leave his son! Bizarrely, later in the story he abruptly is with his son again, and again with no reunion scene.
3. The story has a lot of the same problems with the film in that, at least in my opinion, a lot of the story elements don’t make much sense or are poorly thought out, from the handling of Joe Brody, to the fact that the U.S. government puts a dormant monster egg that they don’t understand into a nuclear waste dump and don’t even bother labeling where they put it, to the weird idea that Godzilla just kind of shows up to save the day and “restore the balance” despite being just a dinosaur in this film, to the nuclear bomb going off near San Francsico without any adverse effects, to the fact that Ford never defuses a bomb despite an entire movie spent underscoring the fact that he is really good at defusing bombs.
4. The monster fight sequences to me felt a little sloppy and vague at times, and certainly don’t have the precision and military detail of Marc Cerasini’s Godzilla books. For example, in the San Francsico fight, we don’t see Godzilla attack the female MUTO. Instead, he shows up in San Francsico, and then later when Cox returns to Godzilla the monsters have already started fighting, which undercuts the build-up.
5. Still no Akira Takarada. Sigh. (I don’t know how they would fit him into the book, though…)
Honestly I think this movie adaptation isn’t bad, but just as honestly, despite my love of Godzilla and giant monsters smashing stuff, I still had a hard time making it through this book. I ultimately just didn’t enjoy reading it very much, and I had to force myself to finish. The frequent grammatical and other editorial oversights were also disheartening and frankly a bit depressing. Still, for lovers of the movie who want to experience the story in a new way, this adaptation is serviceable, but nothing extraordinary, nor even as inventive as the Godzilla 1998 adaptation.